Environment 'vital' in Harrogate transport plans
As North Yorkshire gears up for major changes in its transport system as part of the Northern Powerhouse, Harrogate's council leader has said environmental issues remain vital.
While welcoming new investment in the district's transport infrastructure Harrogate Borough Council leader Coun Richard Cooper said too many people were still choosing to use their cars, sometimes for short journeys.
Coun Cooper said: "While road infrastructure investment is important so are sustainable transport and alternatives to the car.
"I am pleased that the County Council is studying these as part of its most recent discussions on reducing traffic and pollution, particularly in Harrogate and Knaresborough."
Northern Powerhouse: North Yorkshire's fears
The driving force behind North Yorkshire County Council’s concern over the Northern Powerhouse in terms of road and rail has always been the fear of being bypassed.
First launched in October 2015, the county council’s Strategic Transport Prospectus speaks of great ambitions for a rural county which, it said, must not be left behind as one of the “places in between” as efforts increase to improve links between the city regions in the north and downwards to the south and London.
For some people, the Northern Powerhouse has been more of a slogan than a reality - despite all the talk of HS2 and HS3.
But real steps are now being taken in the Harrogate district to turn many of the aspirations of the Northern Powerhouse into a reality when it comes to transport.
Northern Powerhouse: How it is affecting Harrogate transport now
A key figure at North Yorkshire County Council, County Coun Don Mackenzie, executive member for access, including highways, road and rail transport and public transport says real progress is already happening in four key areas.
1. The diversion of the A59 at Kex Gill to improve the reliability and resilience.
2. Planning for the ‘Harrogate Relief Road’.
3. Improving the junction of the A1(M) and A59 (J47) where the county council has secured £3.6m of funding with more to follow from a recent approval of planning permission for the green industrial park at that junction.
4. The securing of funding of £12.5m towards doubling of services from Harrogate to York (from one to two trains per hour) and cutting journey times.
Northern Powerhouse: Costs for North Yorkshire's wishlist
A quick tally up of the cost of North Yorkshire County Council’s transport wishlist comes to £1, 024 million, approximately.
Transforming the Leeds-Harrogate-York railway service, alone, would cost at least £170 million, according to North Yorkshire County Council’s own figures.
The much-vaunted ‘Harrogate Relief Road’ is likely to cost between £50 million to £70 million.
As to the question of whether the Government will contribute enough cash to fund these projects, Coun Mackenzie says he is hopeful, though there is no clear guarantee yet.
He said: “It’s a key question. The early signs from central government are encouraging but we will get a better indication of our effectiveness in bidding for funding when we finalise our plans shortly for the A59 diversion at Kex Gill.”
Northern Powerhouse: Effects on traffic and housing
With all this focus on not getting left behind in the gleaming future of the Northern Powerhouse, residents groups in Harrogate have already expressed concern over the aim of constructing the ‘Harrogate Relief Road.’
Is the Harrogate Relief Road aimed to deal with “east-west connectivity” or local traffic congestion?
Has the NYCC got a preferred route for it and, if so, where does it go?
Coun Mackenzie said: “We have made clear that the primary purpose of the Harrogate Relief Road, if we decide that there is a strong, demonstrable case for one, would be to relieve congestion on our existing road network.
“Traffic congestion is bad in many ways: for local businesses and the economy; for quality of life; for the health of our residents.
“For any route for which a bid would eventually be made, the county council would need to show that its benefits merit the costs involved, and that proper regard is taken of the effects of such a route on the environment, and that sustainable transport options form part of our considerations.”
As for where the route of the Harrogate Relief Road should be, a tricky decision to make at the best of times, Coun Mackenzie said he was aware of its importance to public opinion, not just on traffic but for housing developments, too.
He said: “The question of preferred route(s) for a relief road is precisely what is being worked on right now and will be widely consulted on later this year.
“It’s particularly important because opposition to residential and commercial development in the Harrogate district right now is based largely on the expectation that our roads will get ever more congested.”
Northern Powerhouse: North Yorkshire determined not be left behind
There’s a long road - and rail - ahead before we see how much of the Northern Powerhouse materialises, what North Yorkshire plays in it and how it effects the Harrogate district.
But North Yorkshire County Council is determined local interests will not be thrown away on the hard shoulder.
Coun Mackenzie said: “We need to ensure that our transport priorities are not sidelined in any transfer of spending powers from central government to devolved organisations.
“But North Yorkshire County Council leader Carl Les and I are board members of Transport for the North, which will become a statutory body next year, and we are well represented at officer level, too.
“Geography alone dictates that in both rail and road transport matters, North Yorkshire will remain a key player in the Northern Powerhouse concept.Together we will fight to ensure that North Yorkshire’s priorities are recognised.”